CMH Gourmand – Eating in Columbus & Ohio

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CLEGourmand: West Side Market

Posted by CMH Gourmand on November 25, 2010

This post is easy. If you have ever eaten or if you think you might enjoy eating, then, you should visit the Westside Market in Cleveland. It is great. You will not be disappointed. You will feel that you do not have enough: time, money, room in your trunk to carry what you bought. It is a sure thing. Done!.

Well, maybe a bit more detail is warranted. Let us begin with some facts. It is the largest indoor/outdoor market in the country. It was purpose-built as a market in 1902. West Side Market quickly became an ethnic food destination, a tradition which continues to this day. The market features over 180 booths selling produce as well as meat shops, cheese shops, etc.

In October, I spent four days being wined, dined and driven around Cleveland meeting several of the town’s top chefs. Every chef mentioned the West Side Market as something great about Cleveland and one of many reasons they chose to move to or stay in Cleveland. That is an endorsement. Each chef listed off three or four of their favorite vendors and gave specific reasons for why their go to purveyors were the best in the country or the world. Several names came up time and time again. One market resident came up every time – Ohio City Pasta. In addition to a variety of shapes and flavors of pasta (beet pasta is a favorite of mine), this pasta maker hand crafts pestos, butters and sauces. That is one example. There are over one hundred more.

The open air produce section can feel like walking a gauntlet. You will assaulted (or enticed) with comments every foot of your stroll or dash to the main market. Every vendor works the crowd: calling out names, offering samples, making you deals you can’t refuse on tubers or fruits. The stands could fill in for the United Nations since they represent a variety of countries, languages, cultures and foodways.

Inside the market is a sea of choices. Most of the customers are regulars and known to the business owners by name. Extended families have been on both sides of the counters for generations. There is connection between people here that could not be found in any grocery store or anywhere for that matter, except certain small towns where everyone knows everyone.

The market is also home to Johnny Hot Dog, open since 1912. This place is a slice of life in Cleveland with people on both sides of the counter looking like they have been sitting on the stools or grilling hot dogs since the dawn of the market. The hot dogs are simple natural casing hot dogs served on a bun with chili from a can – nothing to blow you away but something to crave and appreciate just the same. There is a hot dog hall of fame full of old photos, polaroids and yellowed newspaper articles which collectively serve as a time capsule and archive of the almost one hundred year history of hot doggery in the West Side Market.

Every booth has a story or two or three at West Side Market and anyone from Cleveland has a favorite vendor or memory to share with anyone that will listen. I’ll end with a few simple words: Slovenian pork sausage…..

West Side Market
(Ohio City, West Side)
1979 W. 25th St
Open: Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday

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